A slow journey through Portugal
Amid Portugal’s tranquil countryside and along its wild Atlantic coast, you can discover sumptuous palaces and savour rich red wines all year round
Portugal has long been a nation of great seafaring adventurers, with explorers such as Vasco da Gama bringing back riches during the 15th- and 16th-century Golden Age. This legacy lives on on in the form of magnificent historical monuments and sumptuous palaces, as well as cultural influences from former African and South American dominions.
The origins of the mournful fado music are less clear, but this soulful lament perfectly encapsulates the national spirit of saudade – a nostalgic ‘longing’ for a past out of reach, and a sense of being a ‘land apart’. And although this is literally true, with Portugal’s position at the western edge of Europe, it is an incredibly rewarding country to visit at any time of year, with vibrant, colourful cities and wonderfully unspoiled corners, both inland and along the beautiful Atlantic coast.
1 COLOURFUL PORTO
Porto sits by the River Douro, with layers of historic housing clambering up the hillside from its vibrant waterfront. On the opposite bank, in Vila Nova de Gaia, the giant signs of Sandeman, Graham’s and Cockburn emblazon the rooftops of the famous Port lodges, waiting to open their prized barrels to visitors. Explore the maze of churches, museums, restaurants and tramlines, and take a ride on electrico no.1 to the pretty suburb of Foz do Douro, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean.
2 RIVER OF GOLD
Portugal’s most picturesque train ride, the journey from Porto to Pinhão, follows the course of the Douro (known as the ‘river of gold’) as it snakes its way up the valley towards the picturesque vine terraces that are the source RI WKH DUHDōV KLJKO\ SUL]HG IRUWLƓHG ZLQH )URP Pinhão, riverside paths lead to family-owned quintas where grapes are still trodden by foot, and where ŴDW ERWWRPHG rabelo boats sit in calm waters.
3 ELEGANT COIMBRA
Coimbra, formerly the Portuguese capital, is a fascinating if little-known city – home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious university. Baroque palaces and churches lord it over pastel-fronted houses on the hillside above the old town – a maze of alleyways where elegant academic buildings are interspersed with a MXPEOH RI ŴRZHU IHVWRRQHG EDOFRQLHV DQG KLGGHQ courtyards. Coimbra’s thriving student population helps to ensure a lively atmosphere for visitors.
4 LISBON, SLOWLY
Trundling along Lisbon’s streets in a 1930s yellow tram is a memorable introduction to Portugal’s absorbing capital. The no.28 creaks its way through atmospheric Alfama, a maze of narrow streets below Castelo São Jorge, before levelling out in aristocratic Baixa, characterised by noble squares, wide streets and monumental fountains. Then it climbs to reach the Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s ‘wild child’ district, whose network of bars KDV EHHQ WKH WRDVW RI WKH FLW\ IRU ƓYH FHQWXULHV
5 PALACES AND POETS
The battlements of Sintra’s Moorish Castle undulate across the hillsides like a European ‘Great Wall’. This is a world of ŴDPER\DQW FUHDWLRQV VXFK DV WKH DVWRQLVKLQJ 3HQD Palace, with its fairy-tale onion domes, turrets and portcullises. Lord Byron wrote of “Cintra’s
glorious Eden”, and it’s not hard to imagine why.
6 THE BORDERLAND
The gentle hills and quiet valleys of the Serra de São Mamede Natural Park form a natural border with Spain; and H[TXLVLWH IRUWLƓHG WRZQV VXFK DV 0DUY¥R DQG &DVWHOR GH 9LGH are testament to a long and turbulent past. But peace now reigns in this land of cobbled lanes, quiet villages and cork oak woods.
7 ONCE-MIGHTY ÉVORA
Évora is a small but mightily impressive city that sits above the Alentejo plains in magisterial splendour. Among many impressive sights is the 2nd-century Temple of Diana, the best-preserved in Portugal, plus Roman Baths and a huge Gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline.
8 COSTA VICENTINA
Along the rugged, unspoiled Costa Vicentina, virgin beaches backed by dramatic cliffs are washed by a restless, deep-blue ocean. The pace of life is refreshingly unhurried, and the locals offer a warmly enthusiastic welcome.